There are lots of new companies that were born into the era of social media. They have a full-on reputation for customer engagement and interaction. It is expected of them by their customers/audience and has been since they launched their website(s), blog(s) and Twitter account(s) and their company was spat out by the venture capital womb for all of us to check out. Social media influenced the initial business plan before they even launched. Hooray for them! Hooray for social media! Hooray for organic engagement! Hooray for BBQ sauce!
However, SOME companies were not born in the age of social media. They make the best products *still* and are the leaders in their respective industries, have been around since the dawn of time, yet *still* offer a product or service that is relevant and in need. Just like you need to train your big ol’ company to shift to a culture of customer connect, engagement and transparency, you also need to possibly train your long time customers to start looking at your company along the same lines. In high tech, some of the original gangsters of silicon valley that still run the technological show on the back-end with less glamor and more of a solid backbone than almost any other tech company around (Oracle, Intel, etc…) may or may not have had a reputation for direct customer interaction over the past couple decades. So for those that haven’t, while their products or services are best-in-class and their customers know it (these custies show these brands decades of loyalty), these customers still have established an engagement status quo with them when it comes expected direct communication and involvement. If you are a long running big company trying to stay at the forefront of the new customer culture, there’s a chance you may have some work to do. There may be some serious re-shaping and molding of the minds and hearts that needs to take place.
Give The People What They Want
If you have a good product or service that fills a unique void/gap, you’ve already won the battle. To win the war in today’s landscape, you need to leverage social media channels to embrace your interactions with your customers in a way that makes them not only invest in you when things are good, but also want to work with you on improving your reputation when your company is at a low point. They need to have some sort of incentive that drives them to want to be along for the full ride as a customer (an investor, really).
Here are some ideas that I or someone else has thought of to stir the proverbial customer pot a little bit to help get your audience more involved:
- There isn’t a human being on the planet who doesn’t like to be the benefactor of “free”. Throw down some dough for something people really want, a great product that 1000′s would want for free yields you at least a small pile of opt-in leads for hardly any cost. These are people you can connect with on some level and begin conversations with, retraining them in the new way that your company interacts with them, setting a new standard. Make the requirements for a contest such that they have to comment or start a discussion to be entered to win.
- Polls – There are so many easy to use/setup polls on Facebook and widgetized polls to embed on any website/blog now. Keep ‘em short and sweet and construct questions give off the transparent open-minded “we’re here for you” aesthetic and be genuine about it.
- Request public opinions on your product or service or perception by publishing a sincere letter on behalf of the company as a “Note” on Facebook. Let people fire away. Delete the content containing expletives or blatant disregard and read the rest intently. You might unearth all kinds of stuff from your customers that you hadn’t ever realized.
- No one knows how to fill a particular void than the ones you are trying to sell to: Your customers! Run public discussions on Facebook or a blog. People like to say nice things, but they LOVE to complain, and that’s your nugget. Complaints are your ammo to improve your company. Turn a negative into a positive. The objective byproduct of their complaints are that your company makes a better product, provides a better service, fills a need.
- Host several small tweetups focused on a very specific and known demographics. It’s cheap and you’ll learn more in 2 hours about people than you would in 7 days of doing ‘social media’ from your computer. There’s not a dollar figure on the planet that holds a candle to this stuff. What you learn here will translate into more thoughtful and calculated social media risks as opposed to the shotgun blast approach that most use social media for.
- If your company is sponsoring or showing at an event, invite people (current and potential clients alike) from all over to simply just ‘stop by’ and say hello. Shake some hands. Those events have hand sanitizer everywhere now so get your networking on to allow potential new markets and customers to start buzzing around your scene.
Recycle Your Customers
If your customers aren’t used to you using social media or engaging them directly, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to and that you can’t change that. You don’t need to trade them in for new ones. After all, more often than not they’ve invested in you so anything new you do for them, or any new amount of time you invest in them, is all gravy, which makes switching to your new customer relationship from the old, pretty painless. Recycle them for use into the next chapter of your company.